The Finances of Slave Life Insurance: Did Life Insurers Act Appropriately from a Financial Perspective?


  • William Wise University of Sydney, Sydney



Life Insurance, Slave, Antebellum, Financial Responsibility


An important part of having slaves as a labor force is insuring their lives and their income. This paper explores whether antebellum life insurance companies insuring slaves did so appropriately and/or responsibly from a financial perspective. Determining whether antebellum life insurance companies did so is essential, as life insurance is a major segment of the economy of most countries and hence it is vital that life insurers perform well and are viable for the benefit of other industries and national economies, including with respect to the antebellum United States. This is the first study to investigate several critical financial elements, including premiums, expenses and mortality, of antebellum life insurance companies regarding feasibility. One characteristic of the results is that if firms employed a suitable expense assumption then the premium did not have a high enough mortality assumption and vice-versa. Additionally, most premium increases used regarding hazardous occupations, sum insured limits and location failed to adequately account for the associated increased mortality. The overall result is that, from a financial perspective, antebellum life insurers had trouble accounting for slave life insurance appropriately and/or responsibly.

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Author Biography

William Wise, University of Sydney, Sydney

has worked in the actuarial profession with life insurance companies for more than ten years working for U.S., Canadian and Australian life insurance companies. He has also done post-graduate work in History. One of his main research interests in History is life insurance, especially the insuring of slaves in the Antebellum period and its effects on each of a personal, localized and national basis. His other main interest is the political and economic struggle between the non-slave states and the slave states in the Antebellum period.


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How to Cite

Wise, W. “The Finances of Slave Life Insurance: Did Life Insurers Act Appropriately from a Financial Perspective?”. Ad Americam, vol. 20, Dec. 2019, pp. 45-66, doi:10.12797/AdAmericam.20.2019.20.04.